The impact to a business of low employee morale can be monumental. The way in which these impacts manifest are plentiful with varying degrees of severity. Not only is it bad from a business perspective, but it’s also not fun to be an employee in a workplace with low morale or worse yet, be an employee with low morale. I’d wager most places don’t strive for low morale and so through a series of unfortunate events, misconstrued comments and actions, missed opportunities, and the passage of time; morale fades away. Employees start talking amongst themselves sharing negative stories, mocking those perceived as problems, and justifying why everything is bad. They feed each other negativity and start self sabotaging. What’s the point of trying to do anything anyway - nobody cares. Low morale feeds into employee burn out, and burn out feeds into low morale. It’s a dangerous positive feed back loop that impacts business and staff alike.
Thinking rationally becomes difficult as emotions overwhelmingly seize control and you start to assign unproportionate blame to little things. Regular activities start dragging heavily, fun activities cease to exist, and getting out of bed to go to work becomes challenging.
An employer and employee duo enjoy boons applied by high morale like a lower number of leave days taken, a safer workplace, an increase of job satisfaction, an increase in the perceived quality of the workplace, as well as improved productivity, performance, and creativity.
However, the duo suffers conditions inflicted by low morale such as an increase in absenteeism, low motivation and interest, loss of money via productivity loss and decreased efficiency, and even outright refusals to perform certain tasks.
Low employee morale is caused by a whole stack of various things. Notably, management plays a very large role in this - other things like out of office affairs and work conditions factor into this equation too.
A short list of things which can negatively impact morale are:
- Poor Leadership
- Distrust of management
- Poor interpersonal relations between staff and management
- Inflexible working conditions
- Unclear expectations
- Lack of opportunity for personal growth
Identifying low morale is the first step to regaining it. It can be difficult to come to the conclusion that morale is low, even though it’s so blatant that things aren’t what they were. Low morale is sneaky like that.
As an employee, there’s not a lot of things you can do to resolve low morale yourself. The problems tend to be rooted in individuals behaviours and perceptions, yet it takes the entire team to start shifting perspectives and attitudes to regain morale. Identifying and discussing root causes reveals where the patches need to be applied. Applying them can be tricky and depends on a lot of factors - a quick conversation might resolve one problem. A coffee with someone might start to smooth over another problem. Should a particular manager be a large source of grief, it might be more difficult to approach appropriately. If the company culture itself is toxic, then resolving that is a daunting task which simply can’t be completed by one person and requires the company at large to shift. A great starting point for an employee is focus on themselves and make sure they’re not feeding despair to themselves and others.
As a manager, effective morale boosting behaviours are noted as talking less and listening more, providing clear expectations, increasing informal interactions, assigning tasks based on skill instead of politics, advocating for and providing more rights to staff, providing opportunities for staff to make decisions for tasks, and to respect people with greater expertise even though they fall ‘under’ you within the management tree. Gauging morale can be hard, and if you’re perceived as a problem then it’s likely staff will actively hide that from you. Culture or ‘climate’ surveys are an option that can be run every nine to eighteen months to monitor morale so it can be tracked over time.
As an individual, remove yourself from the situation if you can. Take some leave, get out and away. Turn off. Allow the emotional disconnect to flush your buffers and discharge your capacitors. Come back to measured thought and reasonable reactions. This will help you to identify causes and solutions to low morale within your unique situation. Additionally, it will help you mitigate and manage your own personal burn out. The disconnect will grant you the ability to genuinely reflect.
Once you’re able to genuinely reflect, do so. Sit and look out the window, stand looking out over the water, or otherwise remove yourself from distraction and just exist in a place for a bit. Think about you for a few minutes. Breathe. Reflect on what places stress on you, why? Of those things, how can you shift them such they don’t place stress on you. Reflect on why you reacted the way you did. Reflect on how you could better handle the situation. Breathe. Generally reflect. What have you done recently that you liked, why? What was a fun interaction you had with someone, why? Complete the circle and reflect on the fact that you’re reflecting, why?
If it helps, spend some time to simply exist. Don’t actively think about anything, just be. Having a thought is ok, just grant it passage and let it move by. Sit and be comfortable within your skin. Just exist within this world that you share with so many others. Sometimes doing and thinking nothing can help, and that’s ok.